Lee Commissioners vote to put CCCC bonds on ballot
Lee County residents highlighted Central Carolina Community College's value to the county and stressed fiscal prudence to voters during the public hearing Monday on the four proposed college bonds totaling $23 million that will appear on the November ballot.
After the hearing, the Lee County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to place the four bonds — a $9 million bond for a new health science building for the college, a $5 million bond to renovate the college's Veterinary Medical Technology facility, a $4 million bond to renovate CCCC’s Emergency Services Training Center and other facilities and a $5 million bond to renovate the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center — before voters during the fall elections.
"The community college is one of shining stars of Lee County," said Julian Philpott, chairman of CCCC's Board of Trustees. "As we look at economic development, these bond requests we place before you are important for continuing work force development and job training. Businesses and industries want specialized training. We have the ability to provide that."
Philpott recently was appointed back onto the CCCC board by Gov. Pat McCrory after the Lee County Board of Commissioners replaced him with Mark Cronmiller earlier this summer.
Although he spoke during the time allotted to those against the bonds being placed on the ballot, Ed Underwood said he was not opposed to the bonds. He said he only was trying to raise a number of concerns he had regarding the cost to taxpayers.
"One of the things I am asking is please don't come up with a situation where we need to raise taxes again," said Underwood, whose wife, Martha, sits on the CCCC Board of Trustees. "I think it's obvious, and very clear, that we need buildings and classrooms to teach students. But I think we need to prioritize the order of these buildings; prioritize what comes first."
Bobby Powell, who has served on the CCCC board for more than 20 years, said the board was committed to ensuring taxpayers got "the best bang for their buck."
"We manage prudently," Powell said. "I don't think anyone in this county can show us where we've wasted money."
Powell said the board did not take asking for the bonds lightly, and that it had been working on the project for eight years.
Speaking against the bonds, Lee County resident Dale Marks said, "We're putting this forth to the public, and I agree with that. But what is the final cost of this? What is the maintenance of these buildings? ... These are questions I think need to be addressed."
Marks said he feared people were moving too quickly and called for the board to temper its excitement and keep "an unclouded mind" when it came to deciding whether to approve the $23 million necessary for the bonds.
CCCC board member Jamie Kelly supported the bonds and called them "a game changer for Sanford and Lee County."
"Looking over our county finances," Kelly said, "there is absolutely no debt from the community college on your finances. This is the right time and the right place. We need these bonds. We need this to happen for our community college — not just for Sanford, but for Lee County as a whole."
Commissioner Jim Womack spoke before the board voted on placing the bonds on the ballot. He said he worried that the board had failed to provide voters with adequate information on the bonds by not including a capital request for a new elementary school for the county, which he said was mandated by the state constitution.
"In effect, we've misled the voters into believing these are the items they need to consider for obligation debt," Womack said, "that they need to consider these and these alone for a tax increase in the future. If we come back in a year or two years and present to them [an elementary school] for general obligation debt, the question that is going to be asked is, 'Why didn't you bring this to us before?'"
Womack said it was incumbent upon the board to let the voters decide, and that the board had missed an opportunity to provide voters with all the options they had.
"For whatever reason," Womack said, "we've chosen not to put [funding a new elementary school] before the voters. And I think we're going to regret not putting that before the voters."
Commissioner Robert Reives responded that the community college had been holding back for years so that the school board could fulfill its funding requests. He said CCCC had been waiting long enough, and that it was time for the college to have the opportunity to go first in terms of receiving funding.
Also speaking in favor of the bonds were CCCC board members William Carver and Keith Clark, as well as Teri Clark and Richard Hayes.
In other business, the board:
*Approved a bid to Ruston Paving Co. Inc. in the amount of $25,145.50 for resurfacing projects at the Government Center and the Lee County Courthouse.
*Approved Commissioner Charles Parks as Lee County's voting delegate for the upcoming August North Carolina Association of County Commissioners conference to be held in Buncombe County.
*Heard presentation from N.C. Department of Transportation staff in reference to the Hawkins Avenue and U.S. 1 roundabout project.
*The following board appointments also were made during the meeting: Ilona Brown was reappointed to the Rest Home and Nursing Home Advisory Board. Cecil Cameron was appointed to the Agricultural Advisory Board. Karen Glaser was appointed to the Environmental Review and Advisory Committee. Paul Kelly was reappointed to the Sanford Board of Adjustment. Commissioner Kirk Smith was reappointed to the Sandhills Center Board of Directors. Paul Utley was reappointed to the Social Services Board. Cy Richardson was appointed to the Fire Advisory Board.